Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters
Right-wing media outlets are now trying to figure out exactly how to interpret President Donald Trump's tweet this morning calling to "delay" the 2020 election.
Is this a serious proposal? Or is it really a political feint to cast attention on Trump's concerns about expanded mail-in voting? Or is it just another rallying call to his base?
Or — and this is coming from self-proclaimed Trump expert Rush Limbaugh — it might just be some grade A-level political trolling about the coronavirus pandemic, "throwing it right back in their faces."
Previously, Fox News personalities ridiculed comments by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who said in April that Trump might attempt to put off the election. Back then, Fox News commentators called such talk a "bizarre conspiracy theory," "so dumb," "an attempt to frighten people," "a conjuring," and other terms of derision.
But right out of the gate on Thursday morning, during a discussion with Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Fox Business host Stuart Varney proceeded to justify Trump's newly voiced call to delay the election.
"But if we have mail-in balloting the way it's scheduled now, there is absolutely no way you will get an election result on election night, or even in the first few days," Varney said. "That means confusion and endless challenges. That is a mess. What do you think? Delay the election?"
Later in the program, Varney interviewed Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who explained that Trump "obviously understands" that the election date is set by Congress, "but he's trying to highlight what many in the media are not paying attention to — we have a huge problem right now with mail-in voting across the country."
For his part, Varney continued: "I guarantee problems in November. I guarantee that if things stay the same, there's no way you're getting a result on election night or even in the first week after the election."
In a later chat, Fox News host Pete Hegseth also told Varney that Trump that there isn't any "serious conversation to be had" on changing the election date, but that Trump "has a knack for getting people all fired up, and then reminding them there's a real issue here" around election integrity.
Over on Fox News, the spin was that Trump was trying to stir and motivate his base — though maybe even this was not a good idea, from just that political standpoint.
"So I think what we're seeing this morning is just the president trying to sow the seeds of doubt here in the outcome of the election," said Fox News chief White House correspondent John Roberts during a discussion on America's Newsroom. "Is it because he's concerned that he may not prevail on November the 3rd, or is he just trying to mix it up a little bit and throw some chum in the water for his base? It could be the latter, as opposed to the former."
And during the same discussion, Fox News politics editor Chris Stirewalt seemed to assure viewers to "take it neither seriously nor literally," and that this was "just flummery, and he's either trying to provoke reaction or trying to sow doubt about the outcome."
Stirewalt even castigated Trump's outburst for going against the precedents that the United States had held elections during the Civil War and World War II — and suggested that this will be seen as a display of political weakness.
"And the idea for an incumbent to suggest that we would delay an election now, while he is in power, is of course totally out of character with all of his predecessors — and it is sort of a fragrant and flagrant expression of his current weakness," Stirewalt said. "A person who was in a strong position would never, never suggest anything like that. So Trump may be making a tactical error here by further telegraphing his weak position in the polls and his weak position for reelection."
Indeed, Fox News contributor Andy McCarthy tweeted that Trump's remark would just "fuel the paranoia" about the idea that he wouldn't willingly leave office after the election — linking to a piece McCarthy wrote last week for National Review on this "canard."
POTUS's 'delay' talk is so gratuitously self-destructive. The date for counting electoral votes is fixed by congres… https://t.co/NIkdmiA3UX— Andy McCarthy (@Andy McCarthy) 1596119874.0
"He's attempting to play them like a Stradivarius," Limbaugh explained. "You can't look at this tweet in a vacuum."
From the July 30, 2020, edition of Premiere Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show
RUSH LIMBAUGH (HOST): But what this is — it's not hard if you understand Trump, as I do. I may be — I may be the single most qualified media person to explain Donald Trump to people that don't get him, and to people who have made no effort to get him.
What this is is a play. Trump is playing off Obama worried about voter suppression and fearing that Trump might question the legitimacy of the election. It's only a common sense thing to do, after everything the Democrats have done for four years. Then you add in this universal mail-in voting.
But it's a play off — you know, the left is saying, "We can't start school until we have a vaccine. We can't go back to work until COVID runs its course." The left is presenting impossible alternatives out there.
The left is using these false-choice narratives as an effort to dispirit you, to depress you, to think that there's no reason to even hope we can get back to some state of normalcy or the way things used to be. "We can't start school until we have a vaccine. We can't go back to work until COVID runs its course."
Should we delay the election until we get this mail-in ballot thing straightened out? He's just ramming it back down their throats. And predictably, they're going bonkers over him mentioning this delay. And because they've made no effort in four years to even try to understand who Trump is and how he operates and the same thing about his supporters, they're too dumb to realize what he's actually doing here.
So, the left now has to choose one course or the other because this is what they've been presenting to us. They have to choose — delay the election, mail-in voting? Mail-in voting over the wayside, or do we delay the election? This is the choice that he's giving them. He's simply throwing it — it's pushback. He's simply throwing it right back in their faces.
Late in the afternoon, Trump posted a series of tweets declaring that, yes, he was indeed spreading an important message about election security: